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‘I Can’t Fight Off Colds and Whatnot Like Normal People Can’

John and Donna LaBelle stand side-by-side. John, left, is wearing a patterned shirt and a leather vest.  Donna, right, has long light-colored hair and wears a black shirt.
Rebecca Smith

John and Donna LaBelle are from Fulton, and we sat down in September at an event called “The Art of the Scar” that was hosted by the Missouri Kidney Program.

When John was in his early twenties in the 1980s, he unexpectedly experienced kidney failure.  Not long after, in 1981, John underwent a kidney transplant where they also removed his spleen.

They spoke about how even 37 years after his successful kidney transplant, there are still health concerns they face every day.

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org

Donna LaBelle: The only thing I'm worried about is when his operation happened, they took out spleens, which they don't anymore - which is your whole immune system. So, I was scared of bringing germs home, a cold home - disinfectant was everywhere.

When my son was three-months-old, he had contracted measles and it almost killed John.

John LaBelle: No, it was chicken pox.

Donna: Chicken pox, and it almost killed him.

John: That was an experience…

Donna: He was hospitalized for like two, three weeks. 

John: Two weeks, yeah...

Donna: And John started feeling sick, so, of course, he thought, 'well, you know, coming down with a cold.' Well then, these things started popping up on him and –

John: Still got the scars.

Donna: Yeah, and about what? Midnight? You said, "I got to go to the hospital," and it was... it was very scary sitting there. it was very scary. Very. Because you just think that... you know...

John: Chicken pox...

Donna: Yeah.

John: And it wasn't just your normal chicken pox. I had them everywhere – bottoms of my feet.

Donna: Inside of your mouth. They were everywhere.

John:  It was –

Donna: Horrible. 

John: And it's true, if you get chicken pox when you're older, you're definitely in for a long ride because it's probably one of the worst things that's happened to me, other than having the major operation, I think.

Donna: What's your saying?

John: Huh? 

Donna: We're not here for a long time –

John: Yeah, we're not here for a long time, just a good time. *laughter*

Donna: Just a good time. 

But he's very fortunate, I feel, as a human, and he's just lucky, and I tell him all the time, don't I? 

John: Mhm. 

Donna: You are so lucky to be alive. I mean, I wouldn't have a son. I wouldn't have my life, if he didn't have his.

John: I guess the thing I can stress if anybody's gonna go this route. If they tell you to take the medicine, take it faithfully. Don't skip it. Don't get to feeling better, and think you don't need it because that's not what's happening. You need it.

And I just had a conversation with my doctor about that.

Donna: Yep. 

John: Because he's got a patient that went off her meds and she's messed up, but he's fixed her. So, you know, it's pretty important to stay on the meds. 

And like my wife for saying I don't have a spleen, so, starting at right about this time of the year, we don't go out much. I mean, you eat at home, you wash your hands a lot.

Donna: Lysol is our best friend. 

John: Because, you know, I'm susceptible to a lot of... I can't fight off colds and whatnot like normal people can. 

Because I know for sure this winter, I'm going to get a cold and it goes straight to bronchitis, and here I am, but...

Rebecca Smith is a reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. She was born and raised in Rolla, Missouri, and graduated with degrees in Journalism and Chemistry from Truman State University in May 2014. Rebecca comes to KBIA from St. Louis Public Radio, where she worked as the news intern and covered religion, neighborhood growth and the continued unrest in Ferguson, MO.
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